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Floating over Cappadocia

Cappadocia—Ever since I watched an episode of Martha Stewart’s lifestyle show on TV, which she devoted to a visit she paid to Turkey—to Cappadocia in particular—I had put hot air ballooning above the weirdly shaped rock formations on my bucket list.

I almost had the chance to cross this off the list about two years ago when, on a tour of Cappadocia, we left our hotel at 3 a.m. to go hot air ballooning. But before the ballooning companies can take clients up in the air, they must first get clearance from air authorities, who determine whether wind speeds are safe enough to prevent collisions or even worse disasters.

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So there we sat, in the dark in a field in the vast plains dotted by “fairy chimneys,” hills and gullies, waiting for the anticipated permission to be issued. Alas, the wind proved to be too strong, and no balloons were allowed to float above the landscape just in time to catch the sunrise.

I had little hope of fulfilling this item on my bucket list on this visit. For one thing, it wasn’t on the agenda prepared by our hosts, the Turkish Flour, Yeast and Ingredients Promotions Group, for a gathering of journalists and flour importers. And for another, it is the dead of winter in Turkey, which by most accounts has been particularly nasty this year. I imagined that snowfall would be incompatible with hot air ballooning.

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But when we mentioned our frustration during our last visit, and the overwhelming desire of the newbies to Turkey to give ballooning a try, our local guide called some friends and, in less than an hour, managed to snag a hot air balloon trip for all 16 of us. (Because it wasn’t in the agenda, we each had to pay $90 for the trip. But believe me, it was well worth it!)

I imagined ballooning would be full of excitement and activity, and true enough, the preparatory steps—climbing into the gondola (in my case, one of the balloonists had to lift me into it), hearing and watching the pilot turn on the propane chambers to get liftoff, watching his assistants release the ropes—were a breathless blur.

But once we attained liftoff and the balloon and gondola rose in the air, it was the silence that struck me first, and most powerfully. I had expected a jolt as the balloon took off, but instead, it rose almost soundlessly.

I had always thought that, once floating above the earth, passengers would be hollering with joy at conquering gravity. But our normally noisy group just sort of stared at the receding landscape in silence, save for oohs and ahhs and clicks of cell phone cameras.

Indeed, the weird, otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia—dun-colored hills twisted into odd shapes sprinkled with a dusting of snow—lends itself to reverence and awe from mere human beings. Our pilot pointed out a rabbit skipping over the snow, and then a fox rushing to its den. But otherwise, it seemed the picture laid below us had been created just for our enjoyment.

Now that’s an item crossed off my bucket list!

One in our group, who’d done the balloon ride before, said she thought it was more fun in summer, when the landscape was less stark and you were surrounded by other balloons and excited passengers.

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But I thought our spur-of-the-moment lone balloon expedition allowed for more and better meditation on and realization of the wonders of nature and the grace of existence. I don’t know if my friends will send me, via social media, photos of the hour or so we spent up in the air, or the celebratory landing afterwards, when we downed glasses of wine spiked with champagne. But even if no physical evidence emerges of the experience, the balloon ride over Cappadocia will always be what’s known as a “prime experience.” It’s a moment to savor and draw out of one’s memory banks when life seems humdrum and hopeless. In many ways, I’ll always have the balloon ride over Cappadocia!

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TAGS: Cappadocia, Martha Stewart, opinion, travel, visit
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